Anybody who reads here regularly will know that one of my biggest issues with the Hispanic literary world is the regular erasure of women’s works and women’s voices from the general literary conversation (for examples, see here, here or here). But guess what? It’s not just Spain! There’s an almighty rumpus kicking off in the blogosphere and in the real world too, in response to ‘The Count 2010,’ recently published by VIDA: women in literary arts.
‘The Count’ surveys book reviews published in 14 English-language (mostly UK and US) literary publications, presenting pie charts that show the relative proportions of male and female authors reviewed, and male and female authors of book reviews, and the results make uncomfortable reading, to say the least. In every case but one (Poetry magazine’s ‘authors reviewed’), female contributions were way under 50% and in many, many cases, way under 33%. A lot of the comments on the report are expressing shock at the imbalance, but I guess I’m not shocked. I’m certainly not surprised. Disappointed, yes. And angry. More and more angry.
There’s a lot of comment going up all over the place, so here’s just a quick flavour: a revealing and self-reflexive exchange between Jessica Crispin and Michael Schaub over at Bookslut on their own practices as commissioning editors and book reviewers; a great roundup of posts and correspondence on the topic going back to December, from Poethead; and the Guardian’s article on the topic from 4th Feb, which including TLS editor Peter Stothard’s unbelievable statement that, and I quote, ‘while women are heavy readers, we know they are heavy readers of the kind of fiction that is not likely to be reviewed in the pages of the TLS … The TLS is only interested in getting the best reviews of the most important books.’
The comments on the Guardian piece pretty much sum up what I would have said in response to this kind of crass and patronising guff. Forty-plus years of feminist, black, and queer literary scholarship have showed us clearly that ‘best’ and ‘most important’ are subjective judgements that tend to be ingenuously invoked to naturalise a particular kind of taste. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use those words, but we should be clear that when we do, it’s sneaky to suggest we’re speaking for everyone, when actually we’re talking about a relatively small sector of the population. I used to feel a bit guilty about finding the TLS so … well … dull, but you know what? It’s not me, it’s them.